Yesterday on my trail run, I thought about trail etiquette. When coming face-to-face with signage on a trail that reads "Do not enter" or a fence enmeshed with barbed wire that rather clearly indicates the route is not open to the public, what should a runner do? When running on a trail that is not clearly marked, but looks like a trail because there are some recent shoe prints, or animal tracks, does one continue on down the path to see where it leads? And, when the trail ends and only open territory exists, does one turn around and go back to the junction and find another trail, or does one continue on to bushwhack, or create a new social trail (and perhaps get lost in the process)? These are certainly just some of the issues that greet trail runners in open space areas particularly where public and private lands may abut one another. At the American Trail Running Association, we have been working on a document about trail etiquette for the runner and race director. I'd like to share our draft – Rules on the Run – with you and welcome your thoughts. If you are interested in the draft for race directors, please contact me at email@example.com.
"Rules on the Run" are principles of trail running etiquette that foster environmentally-sound and socially-responsible trail running. These principles emulate the well-established principles of Leave No Trace, and Rules of the Trail by the IMBA. The American Trail Running Association (ATRA) believes that by educating trail runners to observe "Rules on the Run," trail runners will be able to enjoy continued access to their favorite trails and trail running competitions.
RULES ON THE RUN
- STAY ON TRAIL
Well marked trails already exist; they are not made on the day you head out for a run, i.e., making your own off-trail path. There is nothing cool about running off trail, bushwhacking over and under trees, or cutting switchbacks up the side of a hill or mountain. Such running creates new trails, encourages others to follow in your footsteps (creating unmarked "social trails"), and increases the runner's footprint on the environment. When multiple trails exist, run on the one that is the most worn. Stay off closed trails and obey all posted regulations.
- RUN OVER OBSTACLES
Run single file in the middle of a trail, even when laden with a fresh blanket of snow or muddy. Go through puddles and not around them. Running around mud, rocks, or downed tree limbs widens trails, impacts vegetation, and causes further and unnecessary erosion. Use caution when going over obstacles, but challenge yourself by staying in the middle of the trail. If the terrain is exceedingly muddy, refrain from running on the trails so that you don't create damaging "potholes" in the surface. Moisture is the chief factor that determines how traffic (from any user group) affects a trail. For some soil types, a 100-pound runner can wreak havoc on a trail surface in extremely wet conditions. In dry conditions the same trail might easily withstand a 1,200-pound horse/rider combination. There are many situational factors to consider when making your trail running decision. Trails that have been constructed with rock work, or those with soils that drain quickly, may hold up to wet conditions – even a downpour. But, in general, if the trail is wet enough to become muddy and hold puddles ALL user groups should avoid it until the moisture has drained.
- RUN ONLY ON OFFICIALLY DESIGNATED OPEN TRAILS
Respect trail and road closures and avoid trespassing on private land. Get permission first to enter and run on private land. Obtain permits or authorization that may be required for some wilderness areas and managed trail systems. Leave gates as you've found them. If you open a gate, be sure to close it behind you. Make sure the trails you run on are officially designated routes, not user created routes. When in doubt, ask the land managing agency or individuals responsible for the area you are using.
- RESPECT ANIMALS
Do not disturb or harass wildlife or livestock. Animals scared by your sudden approach may be dangerous. Give them plenty of room to adjust to you. Avoid trails that cross known wildlife havens during sensitive times such as nesting or mating. When passing horses use special care and follow directions from the horseback riders. Running cattle is a serious offense. Consider turning around and going another direction when faced with disturbing large herds of animals, especially in winter when animals are highly stressed already.
- KEEP YOUR DOG ON A LEASH
Unless otherwise posted, keep your dog on a leash and under control at all times. Dogs running off leash may result in adverse impacts on terrain and wildlife and degrade the outdoor experience of other trail users. If an area is posted "no dogs" obey signage. This may mean that you leave your dog at home. It is also imperative that you exercise Leave No Trace practices with respect to removing any dog waste, packing out what your dog may leave on the trail. Be prepared with a plastic bag and carry the waste until you come across a proper disposal receptacle.
- DON'T STARTLE OTHER TRAIL USERS
A quick moving trail runner, especially one who seemingly emerges from out of nowhere on an unsuspecting trail user, can be quite alarming. Give a courteous and audible announcement well in advance of your presence and intention to pass hikers on the trail stating something like, "On your left," or "Trail" as you approach the trail users. Keep in mind your announcement doesn't work well for those who are wearing headphones and blasting music. Show respect when passing, by slowing down or stopping if necessary to prevent accidental contact. Be ready to yield to all other trail users (bikers, hikers, horses) even if you have the posted right of way. Uphill runners yield to downhill runners in most situations.
- BE FRIENDLY
The next step after not startling someone is letting them know that they have a friend on the trail. Friendly communication is the key when trail users are yielding to one another. A "Thank you" is fitting when others on the trail yield to you. A courteous, "Hello, how are you?" shows kindness which is particularly welcome.
- DON'T LITTER
Pack out at least as much as you pack in. Gel wrappers with their little torn-off tops, and old water bottles don't have a place on the trail. Consider wearing apparel with pockets that zip or a hydration pack that has a place to secure litter you find on the trail. Learn and use minimum impact techniques to dispose of human waste.
- RUN IN SMALL GROUPS
Split larger groups into smaller groups. Larger groups can be very intimidating to hikers and have a greater environmental impact on trails. Most trail systems, parks, and wilderness areas have limits on group size. Familiarize yourself with the controlling policy and honor it.
Know the area you plan to run in and let at least one other person know where you are planning to run and when you expect to return. Run with a buddy if possible. Take a map with you in unfamiliar areas. Be prepared for the weather and conditions prevailing when you start your run and plan for the worst, given the likely duration of your run. Carry plenty of water, electrolyte replacement drink, or snacks for longer runs. Rescue efforts can be treacherous in remote areas. ATRA does not advise the use of headphones or iPods. The wearer typically hears nothing around them to include approaching wildlife, and other humans. The most important safety aspect is to know and respect your limits. Report unusually dangerous, unsafe, or damaging conditions and activities to the proper authorities.
- LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND
Leave natural or historic objects as you find them, this includes wildflowers and native grasses. Removing or collecting trail markers is serious vandalism that puts others at risk.
- GIVING BACK Volunteer, support, & encourage others to participate in trail maintenance days.